Always on

Always on

A physical analysis about where and how much we use the Wifi infrastructure


Duration: 1 week, spring 2017

individual project

Type: Experimental


Regarding the use of the internet, researchers have shown that a number of people believe different spatial as well as social settings warrant different levels of sensitivity in terms of civil behaviour. For example, many people find it acceptable to use smartphones while on public transit. Others for example, may find it unacceptable to use smartphones while in a restaurant. Such standards of etiquette should not be reduced to small-scale social niceties. On the contrary, these standards fundamentally affect both human interactions and the character of public spaces. With the injection of smartphones into public spaces the line between private and public becomes blurred – for example the often intimate and occasionally blustering telephone conversations have turned into a common background noise of daily life.  This is why the question of when smartphone use is acceptable in public spaces should come up for debate. Places like the church, the film theatre, the subway, and the library are being examined on the matter of whether the known tacit etiquettes in today’s society are actually valid in public.


With the support of a driving robot that runs on "wifi fuel", such places like the church or the train are going to be measured and, afterwards, evaluated. The driving robot detects the presence of smartphone users by fetching MAC addresses (a MAC address is a unique identifier of a device) that are broadcast through one’s smartphone. Every discovered MAC address will be transformed into a slight forward movement from the robot indicating that someone is currently online or at least using a smartphone. The total distance travelled by the robot represents the cumulative activity of people in the explored space. Time is measured in relation to the driving robot’s covered distance. For example, in a space where the expectation of etiquette is to not use one’s phone, a cinema, the robot moved only 0,2 meters within 20 minutes whereas inside a train, a much more acceptable space to use a phone, the same robot moved around 6 meters. 


Being always “on” with devices has disrupted long-standing social norms while, furthermore, creating new social challenges in relation to the advancement of Information and communications technology. To me, this experiment has risen the question when is it acceptable to shift your attention away from conversations and interactions in the physical world to conversations and information in the digital world.